Reflecting on the Rios Montt ruling & introducing reflections on Judaism and Guatemalan Human Rights

On January 28, 2013, judge Angel Galvez ruled that former Guatemalan general Efraín Rios Montt and intelligence officer José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez would stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. This announcement, which according to the Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s News Roundup, “drew a large crowd which included many survivors of the armed conflict as well as journalists, retired military personnel, and human rights activists” fell one day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th.

When I think about these two dates and how they connect in my mind, I also mull over what Judaism means to me. I think about how Judaism taught me empathy. In learning the story of the Holocaust, it was not only 6 million of my own people who were massacred, it was all people perceived as different and less than–political activists, people with disabilities, the Romani (Gypsies), gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.

As a conclusion to my delegation with GHRC, my fellow delegates and I had talked about next steps for outreach and activism around Guatemalan land rights and women’s rights. During the delegation, I had observed many parallels to the historical oppression that Jewish people had experienced and Guatemala’s past and present day struggles.

Having recently returned from Guatemala and Israel, I wish to pursue this connection. More specifically, I will explore the intersection and commonalities that exist in the histories of Guatemala and the Jewish people. These explorations written here on my blog will address history, culture, society, art, and politics, with a focus on how both peoples’ have suffered oppression for belonging to ethnic minority grops.

One goal of these explorations is to raise awareness within the Jewish community of the rich history of our own people as well as the complexities of the human rights situation in Guatemala. My goal is that through learning about these intertwining histories, the Jewish community will become engaged in promoting and protecting human rights in Guatemala.

Learn More about Efraín Rios Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez’s Trial

1. Mychalejko, Cyril. “Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala.” Guatemala Human Rights Updates. February 13, 2013. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/rios-montt-and-the-need-for-international-accountability-for-war-crimes-in-guatemala/ Cyril Mychalejko, an editor for Upside Down World, online magazine addressing politics in Latin America, has written an article that gives valuable historical context of the genocide that occurred during Ríos Montt’s administration as well as the support he received from United States President Ronald Reagan.

2. Malkin, Elizabeth. “Ex-dictator is ordered to trial in Guatemala for War Crimes.” New York Times. January 28, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/world/americas/ex-dictator-is-ordered-to-trial-in-guatemala-for-war-crimes.html?ref=efrainriosmontt This article provides a clear explanation of the trial.

Learn More about Holocaust Remembrance 

1. Gera, Vanessa. “International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2013: Victims Mourned At Auschwitz And Beyond.” The Huffington Post. January 27, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/27/international-holocaust-remembrance-day-2013_n_2561839.html This article describes how Poland and other European countries honor January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The article concludes with a quote from President Obama that also illustrates why the ruling against Efraín Rios Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez is an important step forward in enabling Guatemalans to commemorate the lives lost in genocide: “”Many brutal crimes have been left without punishment, redemption and commemoration….I want to believe that by remembering the death and suffering of the victims the new generations will be obliged to fight any form of prejudice, racism and chauvinism, anti-Semitism and hatred.”

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